Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró (1937-1938)

A pastel confection, Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró gives us a glimpse into the master’s psyche. Miró created a semblance of himself with pencil, pastel, and a bit of oil paint. But it stands out among other self portraits thanks to Miró’s constellation imagery, symbolism, and exaggeration.

A Catalan artist native to Barcelona, Miró found himself exiled in Paris when he made this masterpiece in 1937. Struggling with displacement, he declared a desire to go in a completely different direction. Miró said he wanted to peer into, “the deep and poetic reality of things”. This piece stands out among his other artworks and he later pointed to it as a youthful declaration of identity.

It’s apt that he called it a youthful declaration because Miró is often cited as the elder master of the Surrealists. His younger compatriot Dali learned from his example; and André Breton called Miró “the most Surrealist of us all”. So, this portrait is like a young version of the Surrealist identity. It brings us into a new kind of psyche because Miró was a master of tapping into unconscious imagery,

His work unearths Miró’s most spontaneous and intuitive internal workings. He would often use automatism as a method in his painting. That means creating work without conscious control and letting the artwork arise out of instinct rather than intellect. We can sense this in the magical poetry of Self Portrait 1. Let’s dig into the details of the fantastic realm Miró reveals from within himself onto this canvas.


Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró

The Inner Sanctum – Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró

When Miró shows us his psyche, it’s not like other artist’s. He goes deep. As much as Miró spoke of creating a new reality, he ended up giving us a much more specific, precious, and evergreen world. It’s Miro’s inner sanctum. He shows zero concern for how he might appear, giving himself unattractive, exaggerated features. This self deprecation brings us into his world believing it all the more. There’s fantasy here. But no facade. Most fantasy in art delivers a confluence of beauty and imagination. Miró left the allure at the door. He gives us pure ingenuity with no pretense.

The eyes in Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró provide a perfect example for how the painter uses exaggeration for effect. As we age, people tend to grow less symmetrical. One eye may get larger, the mouth can skew to one side, and there’s nothing you can do. You don’t even need to have a stroke… just the act of living can do this.

At the time when Miró created this self portrait, his country, Spain, was at war and he was entering mid-life at about 44 years old. Things were getting crooked for him from a place to call home to his face in the mirror. One eye in the portrait seems far larger than the other. Both eyes contain stars, though.

Miró also distorts his features, a strange potato/pear for a nose sits above his dessicated lips. They purse together, as if kissing the coin below that sits upon his chin. Although recognizable, these parts also seem disjointed and a bit off. For instance, his ears project a bit too far off the side of Miró’s head, as if they will spin into mushroom slice propellers and fly away. The magical elements of his features, with a galaxy of constellations and shooting stars, inspire the viewer’s imagination. It’s as if Miró takes us on a journey through himself.

Color is my favorite element of Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró. Most of the piece flows in shades of light blue, grey pencil, and erased white patches. But he also uses pale yellow and pink with such sublime spareness that these colors accentuate the separations in the figure. For example, below his eye on our right wears a small swatch of pale pink to accentuate the flat plane of his cheek. Miró uses that same shade of blush to emphasize his tie and the edges of his face. These spots are surrounded by a glowing yellow that serves as the only negative space apart from selective erasing details.

Miró thus gives viewers a backdrop beyond his shoulders and just below his collar. These bits of sunshine feel a bit like breathing room from the overwhelming intensity of imagery packed into his face. They lighten the visual load and also help us see the rest of the face more clearly by providing contrast.

Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró shows us the dreamer within the artist. He was unbridled in his artistry and opened himself up to us so we could see as far into his unconscious as we wished. That’s the beauty of this portrait. He didn’t pretty himself into his most attractive version. Instead, Miró delved the gorgeous interior of his wild imagination and shared the dreams living in his mind.


Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró – FAQs

Who is Joan Miró and why was he important?

Joan Miró was a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist from Barcelona, which is why he identified as a Catalan painter. In fact, that was the only label Miró welcomed.

But many icons of Surrealism, such as Breton and Dali, named him as their eminent predecessor. Miró didn’t like to be boxed into any particular genre. He was far too experimental to choose just one.

Miró was celebrated for his unique and playful brilliance in life. He was also honored and acclaimed long after. His hometown of Barcelona erected a museum to honor him in 1975. I highly recommend a visit. It’s an inspiration.

Where can I see Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró in person?

You’re in luck. Not only can you see Self Portrait 1, but also many wonderful Miró works, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Catalan artist is highly celebrated at MOMA and, when he was alive, Miró visited the museum several times. He thus contributed supplemental materials to help viewers interpret his works. I find them a joy to read.


Enjoyed this analysis of Self Portrait 1 by Joan Miró?

Check out LadyKflo’s essays on other Spanish masters.


Joan Miró and Robert Lubar (preface), Joan Miró: I Work Like a Gardener, Princeton Architectural Press

Josep Massot Joan Miró. El niño que hablaba con los árboles Galaxia Gutenberg, Barcelona, Spain, 2018.

Joan Miró at the Museum of Modern Art

Margit Rowell, Joan Miró: Selected Writing & Interviews, Da Capo Press Inc

“Joan Miró’s Influence on Graphic Design”Museum of Modern Art (Audio lecture).

Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró Life and Work, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., publisher, New York City, 1962

Orozco, Miguel (2016). La odisea de Miró y sus Constelaciones. Madrid: Visor

Miró, Joan (August 1947). “In Francis Lee Interview with Miró”. Possibilities. New York

Gibson, M (1980). “Miró: When I see a tree … I can feel that tree talking to me”. ARTnews

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